To pass some time during lockdown, I've decided to share an extract from the opening of the book I'm currently working on. A blend of personal and professional experiences, my account of late diagnosed autism and parenting is delivered with dry humour and a fair bit of honesty.
You may wonder why you need to hear my story. Rather egotistically, I think it's because I need to hear it too. I don't mean in the stylishly poetic way an A-Level English Lit student writes the obligatory 'letter to my unborn child'. This is rather a more gritty and frazzled affair, with a clarity that only time (and excessive coffee consumption) can offer. Ironically enough, I'm embarking on this navel-gazing exercise when I'm the most time-poor I've ever been, twelve hours since my toddler assaulted me with harsh bedroom lights and urgent nappy-based demands. My eyes burn with tiredness and my face wearily hangs, despite my attempts at damage limitation armed with Superdrug's finest.
"Why write this now?" I hear nobody but myself ask. My story isn't blockbuster fodder, and I eschew descriptions of phoenix-from-the-ashes or butterflies emerging from their chrysalis (though I do suspect butterflies are just exhausted, mildly traumatized caterpillars so that is actually rather fitting...). I also reject that the purpose of this book purely existing as an exercise in autism awareness, though I'd be glad to see it included on the shelves with some of those amazing books (we can all agree Rachael Lucas is queen, here).
You see, this book is an ode to myself and others like me...
Those kids who teach themselves Swahili or coding while the others gossip and ricochet around the playground like precise social missiles full of efficient instruction.
Those Mums on the school run who are more familiar with the sight of their own shoelaces than they are with the vortex of facial features and unpredictable implications.
Those teenagers who resented stepping into a gendered role that made them feel like their own understudy, without a copy of the right script.
For friends and allies, who can sometimes find their friend's recent diagnosis is the antithesis of the clarifying emotional revelation their autistic friend experiences. For our non-aut friends, it can require soul (but mostly Google) searching that proves too difficult to verbalise in the right way.
However, you don't have to identify as neurodivergent (more on that later) to be welcomed into these words, because as a wise Gareth once said:
"we aren't all 'a bit autistic', but rather all autistic behaviours are human behaviours"
You see, you'll probably learn something about yourself, autie or not. While we are often considered 'canaries down the mine' for inequalities and poor practice, I'd prefer to move from sciences to reflective art for our ethos. Each autistic person offers just as complex a tapestry of life experiences, likes and dislikes, as their neurotypical counterparts. However, one of the driving forces behind this book is that across all of my personal and professional experiences as an autism education speaker, is the notion that autistic adults can have far more in common with autistics in other continents than they do with other parents at the same school gate.
Why do I feel the need to address such a mammoth divide?
Because, at heart, I think this schism exists for one single, unifying reason:
For us, it can be fear of judgment and isolation. A subtle head tilt of pity comes from a very different emotional place than a camaraderic arm around the shoulders (p.s. please don't touch us). The former, from a place of disparate power or status, the latter a sense of peer connection and union. However it's important to add that both can come from empathy and good intentions.
For neurotypical parents, fear of causing offence can be a potent repellent against confidently engaging with an autie parent. Whether this is rooted in a lack of robust autism awareness, or because their knowledge is based on their cute autistic nephew who can be won over with Pokemon birthday cards once a year. (p.p.s. please talk to me about Pokemon too, k thx bye).
For services and organisations, this fear can stem from a lack of age-appropriate autism awareness preventing the planning of innovative process and outcome measures.
While fear may be omnipresent on a larger political and global scale, I'd like to use this book to bridge that divide. After all, autistic behaviours are human behaviours, and unless you're a particularly well-read Labrador, I'd like to hold communion over our shared humanity. And as parents, a shared jealous disdain of successful YouTubers and Play-Doh in carpet. I hope the following chapters take you on a journey of clarification, unification and ultimately a lot more grey areas. That's where the interesting bits are...